Basketball star Tim Duncan wants out of the wine business. The 15-time NBA All-Star is suing Charles Banks, the founder and managing partner of Terroir Capital, which owns or manages 16 different wineries in California, Oregon, New Zealand, South Africa and Burgundy, over Duncan's investments in Terroir's winery and hotel projects, as well as a sports merchandising company. The San Antonio Spur claims Banks lost $20 million of his money.
Banks denies the allegations and says that Duncan is using the lawsuit as leverage to cash out early on limited partnership investments with fixed time periods. "It's frustrating because this is a business discussion, not a legal discussion," Banks told Wine Spectator. "They're suing to push me to buy him out."
Duncan, 38, has already established himself as a legend on the basketball court. Now in his 18th season with the San Antonio Spurs, the 6'11" power forward has helped win five NBA championships. Off the court, he's known as an intelligent, reserved man who has built an impressive charitable foundation.
Banks had a basketball career too—as a backup at the University of Georgia—but now he's an emerging star in the wine business. From 1992 to 2006, he worked as a financial advisor for pro athletes at CSI Capital Management. Wine was a hobby, but in 2000 he invested in a new Santa Barbara winery called Jonata. In 2006, he and real-estate developer Stan Kroenke bought Napa Valley's Screaming Eagle.
After Banks left both of those wineries, he founded Terroir Capital, inviting a select group to invest in building a winery company from scratch. In just four years, he's assembled a portfolio of brands that produce 500,000 cases annually and range from legendary Napa winery Mayacamas to Santa Barbara pioneer Qupé to Oregon's Evening Land, as well as smaller stakes in hotels and restaurants.
Duncan met Banks in 1998, during his rookie season, and retained Banks and CSI as financial advisors. After Banks left CSI, he offered Duncan a stake in several investments he was putting together, including a sports merchandising company called Gameday Entertainment that Banks is chairman of and two funds at Terroir. According to Banks, Duncan is a significant investor in Terroir's hotel fund and a small investor in the winery fund.
Duncan now claims Banks abused his trust. “Over the course of 17 years, I invested in a series of opportunities presented by Charles Banks, on his assurance that we were working together for my family’s long-term financial security,” Duncan said in a statement. “Banks exploited my good intentions and our relationship for his personal gain and my substantial loss.” He accuses Banks of breach of fiduciary duty and is seeking at least $1 million in damages.
In the lawsuit, filed Jan. 29 in a San Antonio court, Duncan says Banks persuaded him to make a $7.5 million loan to Gameday in 2012, which would be repaid over 5 years at 12 percent interest. The complaint alleges Gameday failed to make all the payments. Duncan also claims Banks collected a 20 percent fee that he never agreed to.
"It's completely false," responds Banks. "He has been paid. It's been a good investment for him. He's made over $2 million since October 2012." As for his fees, "Of course there are fees. I'm in the private equity business."
Duncan's complaint goes on to allege that, "Banks also encouraged, promoted, hustled and advised Duncan to invest in several wineries and investment funds that he controls. Banks has used these wineries and funds to secure substantial income for himself, but they have yet to return much, if anything, to Duncan."
Banks finds the complaint surprising. Terroir made its first purchase in May 2011. "The fund's investment period is five years. We expect to be paying a dividend later this year," he said.
He argues that Duncan agreed to certain minimum investment periods but is now trying to cash out early. "I knew that Tim was unhappy because he wanted to get out of some of his investments after his divorce," he said. "But we've got some terrific investments and I'm not going to let Tim Duncan or anyone else bully me into changing the fund and possibly hurting other investors."
A court date for the suit has not yet been set.
Update: Charles Banks never completed a deal for ownership in Evening Land Vineyards, he subsequently confirmed to Wine Spectator.